Maud is an 82-year-old British woman whose memory is rapidly deteriorating. But she is sure of one thing: her friend Elizabeth is missing. She keeps telling her daughter and anyone else she comes across about this problem, but still she cannot find Elizabeth. As she searches for clues and tries to figure out how to locate her friend, she starts slipping into her past, reliving memories of decades earlier when she was a teen. Her older, married sister, Sukey, disappeared shortly after the end of World War II, and her family searched for possibilities as to where she could have gone. The young Maud relates the days of want when rationing provided not nearly enough food — or at least variety — and the desperation of her parents and their lodger as they wonder about Sukey’s whereabouts.
Bits of information about both disappearances dovetail more and more as the novel progresses and as older Maud’s mind slips further into confusion. Readers suspect Elizabeth is probably fine because Maud’s daughter and others show no concern, but they can’t help but wonder if there might be a possibility of some danger. Meanwhile, it’s certain foul play was involved with Sukey’s disappearance, and the young Maud collects and shares clues that point to guilt of potential suspects.
So Elizabeth Is Missing is a mystery told by both a reliable and an unreliable narrator at the same time, because the teen Maud has a clear mind but not necessarily the whole picture, as she’s not yet an adult, and the elderly Maud’s narration feels wholly unsettling and largely unreliable. It’s a fascinating mix and one that creates a story that acts also as a reminder of the millions who suffer from dementia and of the difficulties their loved ones face in trying to care properly for them.
Rated: High, primarily for about 15 uses of strong language and a few uses of less vulgar terms (including some considered bad language just by the British). There’s little in the way of violence or sexual content.